The second stop on the Bi-Rite Cheese Trek is a man-made earth sheltered cellar in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin. This ‘cave’ was constructed by Willi Lehner, one of America’s most interesting and inspiring cheesemakers. I had the chance to visit Willi a few years ago when I was on a cheese-fueled trip across Southern Wisconsin. His operation is very inspiring: solar panels and windmills provide power, a large greenhouse grows fruits and vegetables, and the cave perfectly ages his cheeses.
Cheesemaking came naturally to Lehner. Willi’s father was a Swiss immigrant who came to Wisconsin to make cheese, and Willi spent summers herding cows and making cheese in the Swiss Alps. Despite his strong Swiss roots, an aged bandaged cheddar put Willi on the map. Bleu Mont Cheddar is Willi’s signature cheese: a small cloth-bound wheel that is aged to perfection in his cave. Willi sources milk from four small dairies and only makes the cheese when the cows are out on pasture. This excellent milk makes a good cheddar, but the time spent in the climate controlled cellar transforms the wheels into one of the most satisfying cheeses made in America. Bleu Mont is a sharp and fruity cheddar with notes of toasted nuts and brown butter; the earthy finish makes it stand out against other domestic bandaged cheddars.
I was able to taste several ages of Bleu Mont on my visit – from a younger 8-month aged wheel to an extra-aged wheel that was over two years old. I enjoyed the cheese that had been aged for just over a year, and the wheels of Bleu Mont available for our Cheese Trek are just over a year old as well. It’s the perfect cheese to enjoy with a unique beer, and great for a picnic or day hike, too.
The next stop on our Cheese Trek is a small village in Austria’s Bregenz Forest for an exciting wheel of cheese that’s rarely available outside the Alps. As always, be sure to look for the Cheese Trek sticker on cheeses in both Markets, get your passport stamped by a monger or when you check out, and show us how you #cheeseyourownadventure on Twitter and Instagram!